Posted by: Michael | 22/04/2008

Lee Friedlander, and An-My Le: Small Wars and Gabriele Basilio: From San Francisco

[I will, probably this weekend, rewrite this. That I love Friedlander and Evans will not change, I will try to make it more coherent.]

Seeing the Lee Friedlander show at SFMOMA had me thinking about Walker Evans. I love many photographers: Weston, Abbott, Lang, Adams, Smith, Atget, Frank, the Bechers and Gibson for a short list. However the first photographer I wanted to absorb was Walker Evans.

I have known Friedlander’s work since the early ‘70’s; He like Evans struck a deep cord in me, but even deeper than Evans.

So why did seeing Friedlander bring Walker Evans to mind? First, there was picture Evans in a hospital bed taken by Friedlander; second, because I believe Friedlander grew out of Evans. Friedlander did not try to become a second Evans but rather pulled, squeezed and twisted, and stretched as you would clay what he seen in Evans. When you look at Friedlander’s work you sense that after absorbing Evan’s work his courage and creativity was not willing to let him become an Evans Junior but rather to grow from this fertile ground into something new and beautiful.

The humor in Friedlander’s photography is extensive and found in almost all groupings; self-portraits, reflections, signs, landscapes and urban-scapes. The nudes are the only grouping I do not remember seeing humor; even the portraits of working people some gentle humor can be seen in the close-ups of telemarketers. These portraits of working people were my biggest surprised; I had not realized he had done this work.

However what most impressed me was his ability to create multiple images in a single photograph using reflections or TVs and windows or various objects slashing across the picture breaking the picture into several images: a sign post, a door frame covering a man’s face and a woman’s leg and the reflection of a man out of the door frame. Friedlander does not break the rules of compositions but invents new rules; he is a Charlie Parker/John Coltrane of photography.

The highlight was seeing his prints; not images in a book but actual prints. Lately I have been printing 11×14, 16×20 and 20×26, seeing the beautiful rich prints of Friedlander reminded me how much more beautiful a silver 8×10 print is than digital prints. The glass covering the prints though drove me crazy; I wanted to take the prints off the wall to see past the glare into the shadow detail.

It is thrilling to see the prints of great photographers.

I had forgotten for years about the images of rooms many with TVs sets. I had forgotten them, but had not lost their impact, and with this show the memory of them came back. Recently, I saw a photograph by a friend of a radiator that looked like knuckles. It was a good shot. Looking at the image an idea I had 30 years ago after seeing Friedlander’s rooms that you should be able to find good images in a single room. What I have been doing in Brooklyn is a scaled up version of this idea; photographing the same Brooklyn streets over and over in different lighting and weather conditions.

The difficulty for me is how to absorb Friedlander and not become a Friedlander clone. He has done so much so well. It is difficult to know where to go, what to do; how to accept what he has done but grow in new directions.

Two other shows at SFMOMA
An-My Le: Small Wars and Gabriele Basilio: From San Francisco

I was not impressed with Basilio images; I found them boring and the printing sloppy; the frames were horrible casting a shadow on the top of the images. I have seen much more interesting urban landscapes of San Francisco done as paintings and photographs: Linda Grebmeier, or Christine Hanlon.

An-My Le: Small Wars
I liked Le’s Small Wars especially the Vietnam War Re-enactments. Forty years ago Chris Howard and I covered for the NY Times Long Island Section people who RV’ed and people who square danced; many people do both. While I was looking at her images I was remembered these groups.The participants of the re-enactments reminded of the square dancing RV-ers.


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